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Case Studies


Verbal bullying (especially by SMS) between girls due to rivalry and jealousy

  • Direct bullying
  • Indirect bullying
  • Non-especific

When and how the event started, how the school detected it.
At the end of March 2011, the assistant head (in charge of studies) who organises the residential class in the countryside for all the pupils of the second year receives a letter from Annik’s parents.
Annik does not want to take part in the trip. She would be bullied by her fellows since October/November 2010.
The headmaster gets in contact with the parents, receives the pupil and sounds out the class near the teachers.
Once the situation is clarified, she considers that these facts are not a concern of her office. She passes the deal to the assistant head in charge of discipline.

Main actors involved
Three girls. We will call them Annik, Françoise and Sophie.

Time period
From October 2010 till March 2011, that is to say 6 months.

Type of bullying actions carried out
Aggressive sms.


Which actions have been undertaken ? Which strategies have been implemented to combat school bullying in this case ?
The assistant head (in charge of discipline) hears Annick who says she feels threatened, scared. To underpin what she said, Annick shows several very aggressive SMS recently received on her mobile phone.
The person who has sent these messages is easily identifiable. She is another pupil of the class, Françoise.
Then the assistant head receives Françoise. This one says she has first received SMS from Annick who mocked at her.
Françoise shows these SMS to the assistant head and tells the following story: “A few days ago, Annik, Françoise and Sophie were downtown. After a while Annik and Sophie left together, rejecting Françoise who went alone”.
(We have to specify that Françoise and Annik were very good friends since the beginning of the school year and Sophie arrived later in the class).

Then the assistant head meets Annik again to hear her version of these other events. She completes the story by the following way: “When she was on the bus with Sophie, this one asked her mobile phone to send Françoise messages “to laugh”.
Annik says she is unacquainted with their contents. She even says she has asked Sophie if she really signed the SMS.
Once at home, she shows her mother and her boyfriend the messages from Françoise, without showing those sent by Sophie and without telling anything about the context.
Then the mother writes a mail to the assistant head and, at his turn, the boyfriend threatens Françoise by SMS.

Confrontation of the actors
In front of these two versions, the assistant head organises a confrontation between Françoise and Annik.
The confrontation turns sour. Annik refuses to hear Françoise and to let her speak. She quits the assistant head’s office slamming the door and she goes back to the classroom.
Her tenured teacher, who has sided with her, tells her not to respond to the assistant head’s convocations.

Other pupils’ testimonies
Then the assistant head gathers the other pupils’ testimonies: regarding the events described here above, but also regarding supposed previous events (as Annik’s mother spoke about bullying that was lasting for several months).
Sophie is convoked. She admits her participation in the exchanges of SMS, but she minimizes the events and involves Annik saying that she was aware of what was happening.
Contrariwise, for the previous bullying events, nothing appears in the pupils’ declarations (9 pupils have been heard).

Teachers’ testimonies
Then the assistant head meets several teachers of the class. It is clear that 4 girls dominate the class by their physical maturity (they are one year late). They are Françoise, Sophie, Annik and Alicia. The three first ones want to have a hold over the pupils, a negative leadership.
They are not always easy to direct in the class. Annik seems, according to her teachers, more “clever” that the other ones and does not raise any disciplinary problem.
Only one event prior to the threats by mobile phone is reported by the teacher of sciences. It occurred one week before.
Françoise did not stop to interrupt Annik’s reading. This one has muttered “keep mum”. Sophie did not lose time in telling it to Françoise and the voices have risen.

Problem resolution
The assistant head decides the following interventions and sanctions.
He goes in the class and reminds the school rules concerning insults and threats. He reminds the warning procedure. He states that henceforth zero tolerance will be applied in the class for similar events, and serious sanctions will be imposed.
He meets Françoise’s father and elder sister. Françoise is suspended from the school for one day.
Then he phones Sophie’s father. Sophie has got two hours detention.
He has also a phone contact with Annik’s parents. Annik is sanctioned because she has left the assistant head’s office without authorization and she has not responded to one of his convocations. So, she has got a half-day suspension in the school.
In the three cases, when the assistant head contacts the parents, he does not only speak about the problem identified. He speaks about the whole situation of their child and about his/her interaction with the class (“leader” group, girls who are difficult to direct…) in order to make the parents understand well the context.

Specific devices set up within the school
This case could be solved quickly thanks to the “pupils’ supervision” strategy developed by the school for several years.
In this school of 1,300 pupils, almost 9% of the total number of the teachers’ periods is dedicated to supervision when the decree of the French Community plans 3% maximum.
The supervision team is made of education assistants (educators, head assistant in charge of discipline, education counsellors…) and of a numerous administrative staff (reception, library, regularity, outside activities, computing…) that allows the first ones to focus on educational tasks. All together, 27 persons are dedicated to pupils’ supervision.
This device is presented in details in the online form of « good practice » on the project portal (prevention, intervention, complaints management, education counsellor…).


Impact of the bullying acts on the didactical pathway, on the students’ motivation, on the school environment…
No pupil concerned has gone on his schooling in the school. However, it is difficult to say if that is linked to the events described here above.
Moreover, the events are qualified as bullying by a girl who presents herself as the victim. But, after the investigation, the school thinks that her status is more complex than a victim’s one and the “bullying” qualification is questionable.


Perception of the causes of the bullying acts
Annik says she is bullied by her fellows for more or less 6 months. She says she feels threatened, scared. To underpin her statements, she shows several very aggressive SMS received on her mobile phone.

Did she inform anybody ?
She informed he mother about the situation. Her mother helped her by writing to the assistant head in charge of studies.


What was her motivation ? Why did she choose the victim ?
Françoise says that she has written SMS to Annik because she has first received SMS from Annik who mocked at her.
Her motivation is the response to an aggression and probably also jealousy, because she tells she has been left downtown by Annik and Sophie (Françoise and Annik were very good friends since the beginning of the new school year and Sophie arrived later in the class).

Did she feel remorse ?
She does not express any remorse. So we can suppose she has no remorse.


Were they aware of what was happening ?
Nine pupils have been interviewed concerning the events described, but also concerning previous supposed events.
In their declarations, nothing shows possible prior events.
Concerning the exchanges of SMS, only Sophie admits her participation. But she minimizes the events by involving Annik.

What was their perception of the causes ?
These pupils are interviewed because their name has been quoted by a protagonist or a witness of the events. They only have parts of information. Their support goes, in an affective way, to those who are their closest friends. But no pupil has a global sight of the situation and they don’t know the ins and outs of the situation.
Anyway we can think they don’t care about that. What is important is to choose a side, not to know why they choose it.


Were they aware of the situation ? How did they manage to understand what was happening ? What did they do ?
The teachers do not have the feeling to be confronted to bullying events in the class, and especially concerning Annik who makes part of an older group of pupils having a hold over the class.
Only one event prior to the threats made by mobile phone is reported by the sciences teacher. That seems to show that friction already existed between the protagonists.
The tenured teacher, who has taken side for Annik, thinks that the headmaster has made a mistake and that Annik is really a victim. But, he does not think bullying has happened. He only defended her regarding the aggressive SMS she had received.

Which cooperation did they receive from the other teachers and from the headmaster ?
The assistant head went in the classroom to remind the school rules regarding insults and threats, as well as the warning procedures.
The teachers did not call for cooperation. They did not even detect the problem.


Were they aware of what was happening ? What did they do to address the episode ?
The headmaster has approved the assistant head’s decisions. The headmaster has met the protester teacher in order to solve the dysfunction that had occurred.
This case of « bullying » has been evoked during the staff meeting which was attended by: one member of the headmaster’s office, the assistant head in charge of discipline, the assistant head in charge of studies and her assistant, the counsellor in regularity, the education counsellor and the educators’ coordinator.


Did they notice what was happening ? Did they get informed and by who ?
The parents have been informed of the problem by the headmaster, except Annik’s mother who has been informed directly by her daughter.

Did they have the possibility to modify the situation and how ?
Everyone has approved the sanctions decided by the headmaster.
Only Annik’s mother does not agree with the version of the events given by the school.
According to her, her daughter is 100% victim of the young girls who furthermore have foreign origins.
She brings a racist dimension to the problem. No doubt this allows her to accredit her daughter’s version.
According to her, she has not reacted earlier because she has first tried to play down the problem with her daughter, who has really suffered bullying for several months.
Then she really wished to come to the meeting with the parents in January, but she had no time to do it because her home had burnt and she had to be relocated.
Finally, Annik did not take part in the residential class in the countryside!


Were they aware of the situation ? What did they do ?
The school did not call for external counsellors because it has an important supervision structure.
The internal counsellors (headmaster and assistant heads) have solved the problem.
They took part in the staff meeting (see “point of view of the school leaders”).


The school authorities only intervene when there is a definitive exclusion.


About the veracity of the bullying event?
We are not sure this event presents all the characteristics of the bullying phenomenon.
The school underlines that Annik’s role is « unclear » : we don’t really know if she is victim or bully ?
This case seems to be an unsolved conflict rather than a systematic bullying.

About the causes of the event and the mechanism that allowed the phenomenon?
Jealousy between girls, power conflict between them, increased by the use of unsigned and therefore equivocal SMS

About the answer brought by the school ?
Two problems have raised according to the assistant head :
- How to deal with the protester teacher, both in his relationship with the pupils and in his relationship with the institution?
- How to sanction Annik? And mainly how to give meaning to this sanction, knowing that he felt that he had not the parents’ support?
The first point has been managed by the headmaster. Regarding the second point, the responsible persons of the school are conscious that Annik has been punished for wrong reasons (no response to the assistant head’s convocations) and that they did not carry off a constructive dialog with her and with her family.
Everyone has agreed to minimize the significance of the word “bullying” used by Annik’s mother, and to bring Annik’s ambiguous game to light.
Indeed, we can think that Annik did not feel like taking part in the residential class in the countryside at all, and she has used these SMS to invent a “bullying” problem.
The school responsible persons also wonder about the impact of the sanction and the way that it has been understood by Annik and by the class.
Officially Annik has been punished because she has disobeyed the assistant head’s injunctions. The school would have liked her to be conscious of her own role in this event, that is to say: the loaning of her mobile phone for reprehensive actions she has agreed with, the truncated version of the events that she has told to her boyfriend and to her parents, the fact of pushing other third people to commit violent acts and finally the non-recognition of the events.
The school hoped that the sanction would be seen by the other pupils as a result of her guiltiness.
Both Annik and her parents have been totally hermetic to this vision of the situation.
From an educational point of view, this sanction was not good. The school has not found an appropriate approach.

On the type of answer brought by the school (disciplinary or educative)?
The school has a hard disciplinary logic. We can notice the disciplinary role of the assistant head who searches for the culprits and punishes them.
The school answer does not lie within a logic of pacification that could have been the solution to the problem, that is to say working on the future “residential class in the countryside” to make sure there will be no problem and calling for external counsellors (CPMS, school mediation for instance).

The lessons brought from the experience and the devices set up to prevent the phenomenon
The management of this case illustrates a real school policy, oriented towards prevention and intervention that allows a substantial reduction of bullying events.
By reacting to the lesser reported event, the device set up in the school allows to deactivate the conflicting situations that could worsen and become more serious bullying phenomena (only 2 cases in 2010, when many conflicting situations could have led to).
The risk of this type of intervention is to open “Pandora's box”…
To manage everything inside the school doesn’t allow to take always the necessary distance in order to solve efficiently the problem.
It could be fruitful to call for external counsellors to set up specific interventions on « self confidence », « mutual respect », etc.

Comments about this Case Study

Date: 21.03.2012

Posted by: Phil Ormerod
Type of school: Special School for students with 'Learning Difficulties'
Country: United Kingdom

This type of dispute between teenage girls is, in my experience, quite common. The introduction of a new girl to an existing friendship can often be a cause of friction and jealousy.

My first thought on reading the Case Study details is that this was a case of 'six of one and half a dozen of the other' where there are faults on all sides. But on closer reading I am not clear whether or not the alleged victim herself provoked the unpleasant texts which she received.

It would have been good if the investigation had access to all texts exchanged between the girls rather than just the ones shown as being retained
on mobile phones. I agree with the comments from Mrs Humphrey-Lewis that the police may be able to access telephone records but whether they would be willing to use their powers in these circumstances remains to be seen.

The school in this instance does have a clear strategy for dealing with bullying problems and seems to have followed their policies productively although it is frustrating that they were not able to meet with the alleged victim's mother.

I would have been happy to discuss his concerns with the teacher who supported the alleged victim's version but feel he might not have disagreed with the actions taken when he had the full picture.

What I might have done is to use this opportunity to widen discussions into talking to the whole class or even the whole school about the problem of cyber bullying and what actions students and parents can take to minimise the problem.

Sanctions imposed seem to have been carefully considered and proportionate, especially to Annik, who should not have stormed out of the office.

The threats made by the boyfreind are not acceptable and depending on his age and whether or not he is a student at the school I may have asked for police support to deal with him.

Date: 16.03.2012

Type of school: VASILE ALECSANDRI High School
Country: ROMANIA

When reading about this case I felt that I didn’t have all the necessary details and something was missing. Personally, I do not usually read messages whose numbers I don’t know (as far as I understood the text messages were unsigned); I delete them.

Anyway, such incidents are quite common among girls this age. The school’s attempts to solve the problem had a good start by discussing with the girl’s parents but the discussion was not extended to the victim’s parents as well. In this way we lose some important points and we are left with some doubts about the victim’s behaviour. Who sent the first messages? Was it the girl? Or the victim? Did the school talk with the other students? Students usually confide their little secrets to their friends at this age. We need the help of an authority to investigate and show that such things are serious matters and this type of behaviour is unacceptable. A counsellor’s services and advice would be of great help as they listen to all parties involved in the case, engage the students’ colleagues to participate in the discussions and having the necessary experience and expertise they solve the case. Communication is the key. I remember a somehow similar case (not so serious) when our counsellor made both parties help her with a project whose coordinator she was. She had investigated the case before: having spoken with the girls, their parents’ teachers and colleagues. After that she decided that making them work together is the best idea because the girls had a lot of interests in common. It was very difficult at first but in time they realised that they needed each other’s help to do their tasks so they had to reach a compromise. It took them a while but they learned to appreciate each other.

Date: 07.03.2012

Posted by: M. Cristina Giannotti - Massimo Di Paolo
Type of school: High School
Country: Italia

The case described by the colleagues from Belgium seems very different from ours. They seem to be dealing with more of a fight between teenagers than a real case of bullying. As a matter of fact the main cause of the dispute is jealousy. This jealousy is caused by the desire to win the friendship of Sophie by Annik. The quarrel was mainly verbal through msgs and was magnified by the intervention of Annik’s parents.
We are not dealing with a negative leader at the head of a gang of bullies performing continually acts of abuse and physical assault. The classmates do not realize that the relationship between the girls had been characterized by conflict for months because the dispute had remained confined within the group without outbreaking in both verbal and physical violence. Instead, in most cases of bullism, as time goes by, the aggressions become increasingly evident and clear and even classmates become aware of it. Classmates can also become players with attitudes obeying to the code of silence and defensive.
Annik's mother took her daughter's defense without a deeper knowledge and comprehension of the story. In general, the parents accepted the decisions of the school system that acted promptly. The assistant head perfomed well in his investigation and mediation, and recognized that everybody involved was to be blamed for this dispute. Quite often the reason for the aggression shown in episodes of bullism is due to social unrest. Because many children live in violent families and social environments they reproduce this model with their peers. In this case, however, even if there could be a racist bias the conflict between the adolescents remains at the same level. It is interesting to note and highlight that the racist component is relevant only among adults.
The disciplinary interventions undertaken by the assistant head were fair and correct. However, it is always desirable that schools, especially those attended by teenagers, could plan interventions able to act on the good relationship between pupils, strengthening norms and values of the group. This policy should involve all the stakeholders of the school, from the class group to the teachers to the rest of the school staff. It is also important to organize meetings in order to allow the teachers to share and exchange point of views and perspectives, concerns and strategies for the classroom management. Teachers are often left alone to handle difficult situations so the existence of permanent and reliable forms of collaboration between different professional profiles could provide educational reference not only for teachers but also for pupils and parents alike.

Date: 07.03.2012

Posted by: Sophia Mitroulia
Type of school: Gymnasioum
Country: Greece

The main common element that seems to leed to the parallel study of the two case studies is that a student have fallen victim to harassment from their peers through the applications of the new technologies. On the one hand is the sms and on the other hand is the social network.
At the case of the “Verbal bullying (especially by SMS) between girls due to rivalry and jealousy” the reaction was immediate. The headmaster got in contact with the parents and took her out of the class the pupil and sounded at her in the class. She mentioned the incident to the assistant head. Then a number of actions was undertaken by the assistant head to combat school bulling
At the «Τhe social network creates problems» the parents of the three girls who were under the threat of punishment could not believe that their children had done something so terrible. They tried to comprehend their daughters’ point of view who claimed that it was just jokes and teasing among adolescents and they tried to see Catherine’s who was shy and scared. At the case of the “Verbal bullying (especially by SMS) between girls due to rivalry and jealousy” everyone has approved the punishments decided by the headmaster.
Only Annik’s mother disagreed with the version of the events given by the school.
According to her, her daughter is 100% victim of the young girls who furthermore have different customs.
She brought a racist dimension to the problem. No doubt this allows her to accept her daughter’s version.
According to her, she has not reacted earlier because she has first tried to decrease the problem with her daughter, who has really suffered bullying for several months. The schools and the parents must work together having as a reference the preventation rather than the confrontation.
Finally as it is written in the paragraph “Specific devices set up within the school” the school can solve problems of school bullying quickly thanks to the “pupils’ supervision” strategy developed by the school for several years..
The supervision team is made of education assistants (educators, head assistant in charge of discipline, education counsellors…) and of a numerous administrative staff (reception, library, regularity, outside activities, computing…) that allows the first ones to focus on educational tasks. All together, 27 people are dedicated to pupils’ supervision. However , ti always needs to be virgilant and constantly updated mainly on issues related to school violence through new technologies.

Date: 28.02.2012

Posted by: Mrs B Humphrey-Lewis
Type of school: Comprehensive
Country: UK

The event described is not unusual particularly amongst teenage girls. It appears that a previous close friendship between two girls was affected by the arrival of a new girl to the school causing jealousy and conflict.

The role of the alleged victim remains unclear. It is possible that she may have sent unpleasant messages herself first thus provoking a reaction. The investigation undertaken by the school did not determine how the event began. The alleged victim also involved her boyfriend who sent threatening messages. The “victim” appears to be trying to reassert her position as one of the dominant females in the peer group. Hence she reacts badly to the perceived disloyalty of her friend.

The school has a good level of support and supervision of its students. There is a clear behaviour policy and identifiable sanctions are linked to poor behaviour. The incident was used productively to discuss with parents their daughters’ difficult presentation and attitude at school. However, this discussion was not conducted with the family of the alleged victim.

One outcome remains resolved and therefore unsatisfactory. Had the alleged victim sent similar offensive and threatening messages first? Could this be a case of unresolved conflict linked to the “victim’s” desire to be the dominant female?

This incident might have been best handed over to the Police to investigate. The Police have the power/authority to access phone records. This would have potentially proved conclusively who had sent the first messages. It may have led to the “victim’s” family regarding the situation differently. It would also have ensured that the “victim’s” boyfriend was suitable reprimanded. It also sends a clear message that this type of behaviour is totally unacceptable.

In the UK when such cases are reported to the Police they take a very proactive stance with regard to threatening text messages. The “victim’s” motives and the level of her involvement remain inconclusive. This could lead her to adopt even further her attitude of being “beyond reproach” in such circumstances.

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